A Jury Gets An Unarmed Black Victim Cop Shooting Right, But The Reasons Why Are Significant

From the AP: “A white former Dallas police officer who said she fatally shot her unarmed, black neighbor after mistaking his apartment for her own was found guilty of murder on Tuesday. A jury reached the verdict in Amber Guyger’s high-profile trial for the killing of Botham Jean after six days of witness testimony but just a handful of hours of deliberation. Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!”

I am surprised at the murder verdict; I expected a manslaughter conviction, and thought that prosecutors may have over-charged.

Nonetheless, a guilty verdict was necessary. It must be remembered, however, that few of the factors typically present in cases where cops have been acquitted for shooting unarmed black citizens existed here. The victim, Botham Jean, did nothing to justify his shooting, indeed nothing to justify having a confrontation with police at all. He didn’t resist a lawful arrest or threaten the officer. Amber Guyger was absolutely and completely responsible for his death in every way. She may have thought her life was in danger, but she was ridiculously wrong, and even if Jean had threatened her, he had every right to do so. She was, to him, a home invader.

In such circumstances as these, none of the usual sympathy that juries have for police officers and their dangerous duties while protecting the public applies. Guyger wasn’t trying to protect the public; she wasn’t even on duty. A jury would naturally sympathize with the victim; if a confused cop could barge into his home and start shooting, it could happen to any juror. Did race play a part in the verdict? I hope not. Whatever the verdict was, there was no evidence to suggest that Jean was killed because of his race.

It will be interesting to see what sentence the jury recommends. I feel sorry for Guyger: she was badly trained, she may have been exhausted from an over-long shift, and there is no reason she wanted to kill Jean, or anyone. Yet with power comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes accountability.

I just re-read my post from a year ago about this case. You might want to read it again too. I’ve re-posted the whole essay below.

I could easily put this story in the Ethics Alarms Zugzwang file, because I see no analysis or result that won’t make the situation worse.

A white off-duty police officer named Amber R. Guyger  entered the apartment of  Botham Shem Jean, a 26 year old accountant, and fired her service weapon twice at him, killing the St. Lucia immigrant. She claims that she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment after returning home from her 14-hour shift and believed  Jean, who is black, was an intruder.

Indeed, her apartment was directly below his. She had inexplicably parked her car on the 4th floor, where Jean’s residence was, rather than the 3rd floor, where hers was. So far, there is no indication that the shooter and the victim knew each other. Guyger had a clean record. Other facts are in dispute. The officer told investigators the apartment door was  ajar and then fully opened when she inserted her computerized chip key. That seems possible but unlikely.  Lawyers for  Jean’s family say the door was closed. How could they possibly know that?  Guyger said in court documents that when she opened the door,  she saw shadows of someone she thought was a burglar, and shouted commands before shooting. Lawyers for Jean’s family have elicited testimony from neighbors that they heard someone banging on the door and shouting, “Let me in!” and “Open up!” before the gunshots.  Why would the officer do that if she didn’t know Jean, or if she thought it was her own apartment? They also said they then heard Jean, say, “Oh my God, why did you do that?”

Boy, that sounds like an awfully convenient exclamation to be remembering now, don’t you think? But who knows? Maybe it proves the two knew each other. (Why didn’t Jean say, “Who are you?”) Maybe it is another “Hands Up! Don’t shoot!” lie for cop-haters and race-baiters  to adopt as a rallying cry.

Surprise! Jean’s family is being represented by Benjamin Crump, the same lawyer who represented the relatives of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and managed to manipulate media accounts and public opinion into the narrative that those shootings were motivated by racial hate. If nothing else, Crump is diligent and zealous in creating an atmosphere that maximizes the opportunity for civil damages whether they are warranted or not.

Crump is referring to Jean’s death as an assassination. Of course it is! After all, Guyger’s a white cop, and they live to oppress, brutalize and kill unarmed black men for no reason whatsoever, except to protect white power in a racist nation. Dallas’s black citizens and white activists do not believe the officer’s story, because they presume racism. (Similar impulse: progressives and feminist believe Brett Kavanugh’s accuser, because they want to,)  Protesters chanted and disrupted a City Council meeting last week. There have been escalating  threats against the police. Officers say they believe Officer Guyger’s version of events, as weird and inexplicable as they are. The same bias is at work: they want to believe her.

Things don’t work when they are hemmed in by biases and agendas like this. Let’s say that an investigation yields no clarification. An innocent man was shot in his own home by a police officer who lived beneath him for no discernible reason, and the cop’s only explanation is that she was tired, confused, and made a mistake. What is the ethical course at that point?

There are a few easy calls. The police department has civil liability, and it is high time to put the same kind of limitations on police shifts that airline pilots must abide by. The accident, if it was an accident, may have been caused by unethical working conditions. It would also be sensible for apartment and condo complexes to be required to make all floors recognizably distinct. I have tried to enter the wrong hotel room, apartment, condo unit and dorm room at various times, in addition to walking into ladies rooms and the occasional closet. Luckily, I don’t carry a gun. However, my own experiences make me at least willing to consider that this might have been nothing but a terrible, tragic accident.

Obviously, Officer Guyger’s career is over no matter what the truth is, and should be. Thus I agree with the argument that she should be suspended without pay or simply fired. Off-duty cops are required to carry guns, and once a cop makes this kind of “mistake,” she can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t want her wandering around my neighborhood.

Beyond that, however, what is Dallas supposed to do? The race hucksters want to protest and exacerbate racial divisions. Guyger will be painted as a cold-blooded racist killer, and typical of all police. Any result that doesn’t have her sentenced to prison for a long time will be condemned as proof that the white fix is in. The city has a duty to prevent riots and deaths, but not to squelch protests, no matter how cynical and unfair. Should it indict and try Guyger for murder rather than manslaughter, knowing that over-charging could result in an acquittal?  This was Baltimore’s approach in the Freddie Gray case, and now police passivity has made the city a runner-up to Chicago as U.S. Murder Central. What if the investigation suggests that this was indeed an accident, and no more? Is it fair to try Guyger at all, then? Will jury members concede that she has lost her occupation and her reputation, and that imprisoning her is cruel—that she has suffered enough? Or will Guyger really stand trial not as an individual, but as a symbol of all cops who shot unarmed black men and escaped accountability?

Not only do I see no satisfactory ethical outcome, I can’t even decide what an ethical outcome would be.

I do know this, however. Bias not only makes us stupid, it makes fairness, justice and law enforcement impossible.


43 thoughts on “A Jury Gets An Unarmed Black Victim Cop Shooting Right, But The Reasons Why Are Significant

  1. I too expected manslaugther…I’m no legal expert but I don’t see how you get to murder without mens rea. Unless in Texas, extreme negligence or whatever was inhibiting Guyger counts as equal to mens rea.

    I can’t wait for your follow up post about all the activists claiming this is vindication for people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

    One quote already gets things wrong as it tries to work in a political angle:

    “Before the verdict, as their deliberations entered a second day, jurors were given the option to consider the “castle doctrine,” known as Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” law. The law was clearly on their minds first thing Tuesday morning.”

    Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground aren’t the same thing.

    • “I can’t wait for your follow up post about all the activists claiming this is vindication for people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.”

      I’ve already read one article that cites the Tamir Rice tragedy in conjunction with this type of shooting. But, again, framed as Police-Office-Saw-A-Black-Male-and-Opened-Fire, not as a terrible accident.

    • I think that murder requires intent while manslaughter does not. So, if she had fired a warning shot and that hit someone and killed them, since she was not “intending” to kill someone that would fall under manslaughter. On the other hand, since she intended to kill someone, even though she was mistaken in her assessment of the situation, her intent was to kill, thus murder.

      I have seen nothing to indicate that it was premeditated, since it did not seem that she knew of this guy. So it was not like she intended to kill him while walking down the hall, but she did intend to kill him when she fired.

      • It depends on where you are, most places in Canada and America differentiate between first and second degree murder, but some states have third degree murder, or qualifiers to manslaughter (ie: involuntary manslaughter). Your mileage will vary.

        Manslaughter usually requires that the person did not mean to kill the other person; that the death was an accident, caused by negligence, or mental incapacity. I think, and I fully admit I could be wrong, but I think that this case hinged on the jury not accepting the argument that Guyger was incapable of reason and that they believed that someone who shoots someone twice in the center of mass probably intended to kill the person they shot.

      • I think *malicious* intent is what matters. Self-defense (in this case, grossly grossly mistaken self-defense) has no mens rea. Now the mistake led to the death of a man, and that IS punishable. But in self-defense, I don’t think Texas law uses the phrase “intent to kill”, I think it uses terminology along the lines of “stopping”, not “killing”. The killing may just be the outcome of an attempt to stop someone. Which is why Texas self-defense law clarifies that actions taken in self-defense that include lethal force are permitted. Because in self-defense, there isn’t an intent *to kill*, there is an intent *to stop* whatever assault or violation of home occurs…a resulting death is the fault of the assailant, not the self-defender.

        But in Guyger’s case, given no believable malicious intent, her mistaken self-defense, seems like a reasonable explanation, while the mistake is of course, still punishable.

        • In some states, self-defense based on a genuine but unreasonable belief is part of the doctrine of “imperfect self-defense” and serves to lower the offense from murder to manslaughter. I get the feeling that’s what a lot of people here are groping towards when they talk about manslaughter. But I can find no case law or statute establishing that defense in Texas, and the fact it wasn’t mentioned in the jury charge leads me to believe it is not available in Texas. Therefore, the fact she intended to kill, and that the killing was not justified by reasonable belief, is sufficient to convict her of murder.

            • The minimum required by statute for a murder conviction is 5 years, and the maximum 99 years. The purposes of criminal punishment are retribution, restitution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation. An ethical sentence should be no longer than what is required to advance these ends.

              Restitution is essentially impossible in any meaningful sense, and in any case cannot be served through incarceration. Specific deterrence is not really a concern since the defendant believed, though unreasonably, that she wasn’t even committing a crime at the time. General deterrence is an important concern, to show police they are not above the law and will not get immunity for breaking into innocent people’s homes and shooting them dead, but I do not think a long sentence is necessary to achieve that effect. Incapacitation is served by the felony conviction itself barring the defendant from ever possessing firearms in the future, as there is no evidence she is otherwise criminally inclined to obtain and use them. As the defendant was gainfully employed immediately prior to the shooting, it seems that any extended carceral sentence is more likely to harm the ends of rehabilitation than it is to serve them.

              Retribution is a key factor here, meaning that the community, especially the victim’s loved ones, ought to feel some satisfaction that justice has been done. However, care must be taken that any desire for presonal revenge on their part not be allowed to stand as a substitute for impartial justice. It’s a thorny question I’m not entirely sure how to grapple with.

              Factors in mitigation would include lack of malice and lack of prior criminal history. In aggravation I would posit that her show of remorse on the stand came across as more self-serving than genuine, especially given that she did little to provide first aid to the victim despite having trauma dressings immediately available to hand in her bag. I also consider the defendant’s position of public trust as a police officer to be an aggravating factor.

              Weighing all these, I would agree to a sentence in the 7-10 year range. I would have allowed the minimum sentence of 5 years, except I find it inadequate retribution in light of her perceived lack of genuine remorse and position of public trust.

              • Good analysis. Every part of it makes sense and hangs together.

                General deterrence is an important concern, to show police they are not above the law and will not get immunity for breaking into innocent people’s homes and shooting them dead.

                This part is problematic, potentially. First, it was (if I am correct) completely accidental that she did break into his home. And for that she might be excused.

                But what seems likely to happen is that this conviction will be used against police in their normal and accepted work. Police often have to ‘break into people’s homes’ in the course of their police work. And in those situations people do get shot and killed.

                • I find your concern misguided. While Guyger’s entry into Jean’s home was not intentional, it was grossly negligent, that negligence merits punishment, and in the interests of general deterrence, ought to be seen to be punished. My reasoning in no sense impairs the protection the law affords officers who are not mistaken as to the facts. Nor does it affect those who make reasonable mistakes of fact. But there must be a line drawn, or else it would mean that police are not constrained by the facts at all, which is not materially different from not being constrained by the law.

                  • My reasoning in no sense impairs the protection the law affords officers who are not mistaken as to the facts. Nor does it affect those who make reasonable mistakes of fact. But there must be a line drawn, or else it would mean that police are not constrained by the facts at all, which is not materially different from not being constrained by the law.

                    I understand your point. But my perspective is a larger one, though I understand that many do not see it as I do. I understand that there is a sort of war going on in our culture. I describe that war as one of active and on-going ‘dispossession’. The war has taken on racial tones because — again as I understand things and see them — there is a ‘war on whiteness’. This is ideological and also deeply emotional and is tied to what I understand to be ressentiment. Ressentiment is a technical term to describe profound, even mindless contempt and anger, which seeks to destroy the thing it hates.

                    Because these *moods of ressentiment* are going on and on-going, one has to take steps back and look at the phenomena from a removed perspective. And I try to do this and I also write from this perspective. That is my principle focus and — though some don’t see it as such — my main contribution to the larger, social conversation.

                    My researches have led me to a contrary perspective, and contrary view than the *normal* one. I reject the notion of white-on-black violence or assault (I mean assault in a general sense) and I subscribe to the understanding that the greater sort of violence is black-on-white. I can direct you to those journalists who report on this and do not get any exposure. However, in our present there is a *narrative* that has been established that Blacks are being gunned down in the street — murdered, for no reason — every living day. For reasons that are hard to describe, because they are complex, this *narrative* gets an exceptional amount of play, and people ‘believe it’. Indeed it models or directs their perception. Again, all of this is connected to powerful anti-White narratives and is connected to the ‘war on whiteness’ (which is connected to an on-going process of ‘dispossession’).

                    This particular case, though I believe that I agree with your assessment (I do agree that punishment is necessary though I am undecided how much) takes place within this general social atmosphere of ‘white hate’ and ‘dispossession’. These are large movements that require some study (or exposure) to see.

                    I have the sense that this case, which is pretty ‘cut-and-dried’ and has a victim which really did get served a horrible fate, will be used in the larger battles of the day: to inhibit police from doing their dangerous work of apprehending dangerous and armed suspects; to bolster a general contempt and hatred of police power; and will contribute to the mood of ‘general uprising’ which is going on and on-going.

                    What you have concluded in regard to the ‘facts of this case’ most certainly is reasonable and I think accurate. But the larger forces moving now are anything but reasonable and rational. They will use this ruling as a tool to continue in their pernicious work of undermining hierarchical structures.

  2. I’d have expected a reckless homicide charge and conviction. A conviction for killing someone errantly or otherwise in these circumstances was required.

    • I suspect it may actually be a “criminally negligent homicide” conviction, based on my understanding of the law here in Texas. It’s hard to know, because the incompetent news media are all saying she was convicted of “murder”, which, while being a more emotionally-charged word, isn’t a legal definition as far as I know.

        • I suggest you peek in on the sentencing phase Livestream as much as you have the time for later today.

          It’ll start in a couple of hours and is expected to feature her sorry not sorry social media posts and racist text messages. The stuff the jury didn’t get to see when deciding guilt but factors in now.

            • Sorry other Livestream is yesterday’s and should obviously just continue on today and now it’s down (as running when I posted. This one is running right now, the sensational stuff not expected till later.

              At the moment one of Botham’s friends is talking about how wonderful he was, standard stuff.We’ll get a second verse same as the first from Guyger’s friends eventually.

      • It was a conviction for murder. Listen to the jury charge. She did intend to kill Botham Jean. She did, in fact, kill him, and that killing was not justified by a reasonable belief. That’s murder.

        Some jurisdictions allow an offense to be reduced to manslaughter where the defendant has a genuine but unreasonable belief they are acting in self-defense. Texas is apparently not one of them.

  3. First consideration in pulling a weapon: be sure of the situation. Nothing matters about my day, by mood, or my car’s mechanical condition: I am responsible if I hit someone.

  4. Amber Guyger was wrong with everything she did from the moment she walked onto the wrong floor of her apartment building, she earned the guilty verdict. If this had been any ordinary armed citizen, they would get a guilty verdict too.

    There is something should be noted about this whole incident and that’s the actual root cause of the incident. Amber Guyger entered through Botham Jean’s unlocked door and fatally shot him after mistaking him for a burglar in her own apartment. If Botham Jean’s door had been locked it’s quite likely that the unlockable door with her key would have rang her bell making her realize she was on the wrong floor and this shooting might never have happened. No that’s NOT blaming the victim.

    Please use common sense folks! In today’s world there are criminals wandering around in search of crimes of opportunity, stop making it easy for criminals!

    For God’s Sake People, Lock Your Damn Doors Immediately After Walking Through The Door – NO EXCEPTIONS! It Only Takes About 2 Seconds.

    Also; Close and lock your garage doors immediately after parking your car and don’t ever leave them open and unattended, not even for a couple of minutes!

    Also; don’t leave your car unlocked and unattended at any time.

    Locks have a purpose, use them.

    • That practically begs the question: why did the unlocked door not clue this off-duty Texas police officer in to the fact that this was not her door? (That is probably why you had all the BS about doors ajar, etc.)

      Does she NOT lock her own door? Texas ain’t Minnesota; it ain’t even Wisconsin!


      • I would actually think that an unlocked door would make me think burglars. “Someone opened my door and they might still be in there. Scary!”

        • I agree. But I also find it really really insane, that upon entering what she thought was her own home, wasn’t astonished to find that, not only had the burglar replaced ALL her furniture, wall hangings, and appliances with completely new furniture, wall hanging, and appliances, but the burglar was also enjoying a nice lie down on the new couch he’d brought to her home.

      • I spent some time this AM reading about how the situation developed. It is a bit weird. She had been having an affair with a fellow (married) officer and just prior to getting home was texting rather racy content. She was distracted and confused and parked on the wrong floor of the parking garage and, I gather, therefore went up to the apartment floor one above hers, perhaps a habit of walking up a certain number of flights of stairs (but I am guessing).

        She was distracted, tired — all of this she admitted (and she did take the stand) — and did not pay enough attention. I think she had gear in her hands (police stuff) but still had her weapon on her hip. Encountering the man, she shot him. She found the door not closed completely and I imagined her immediately thinking someone must be in her apartment. And she also confessed that in shooting him her intent was to kill him since this is how she was trained to shoot: shoot to kill, not to wound, not to frighten.

        The coroner (White btw) said that the shots did not enter straight in but at an angle, and the prosecution suggested that this was because he was either reclining somehow or perhaps cowering in front of her. Thus suggesting something more like an assassination.

        The prosecution stressed to the jury that her attitude after-the-fact was improper: two days later she was texting the same officer — sexual content I read — and suggesting they go out drinking. This ‘while the victim’s family grieved’.

        The jury had an abundance of Blacks (I think I read 7 of the 12), was mostly made up of women, and there were some other ethnicities too. Thus mostly persons-of-color.

        As the verdict was read, the family rose up and praised God. They celebrated and hugged one another. She sat there crying.

        My assessment, at first, was that it was a ‘terrible mistake’ but that she should not be excessively punished, definitely not for murder. Yet, she did ‘intend’ to kill him even when she thought he was a robber (or something more perhaps). I first thought she should not be convicted but then I realized the degree of negligence should be punished — up to a point.

        My read is that this occurs within a ‘climate’ in which revenge and ‘getting even’ is sought. The fact of the matter — if one follows Colin Flagerty — is that the incidence of black-on-white crime, terribly underreported, is much more common and epidemic than Whites killing Blacks.

        This fits into a twisted and sick psychology that operates in our present that is aided and abetted by media forces. BLM and a great deal of the hatred of ‘whiteness’ is part of a long pattern of vilifying Whites and white culture.

        In any case, the family will be rewarded many millions of dollars when the wrongful death suits go through.

        I do not think she should spend more than a year in jail. More would be absurd, as it will resolve nothing, and it was overall accidental (though completely negligent).

        • One of the items pointed out by the prosecution in the case was that the 1st thorough 3rd floor parking garage had a facade that blocked the view to the outside. The 4th floor did not. So she was so distracted that she didn’t notice she could see out. That’s pretty focused in to miss that cue.

          • When I thought about the elements in this case like the one you mentioned, I referred to any number of times I have been distracted or overwhelmed by something, and I could imagine it happening. Making the mistake she is said to have made, at least with the elements of this story that I have, sounds the most plausible.

            But I can imagine that other people — the family for example — could (and did) weave together another interpretation.

        • Every inanimate object in your home is only “stuff”, it’s not worth your life.

          The correct answer, even if you are armed to the teeth, is get to a safe place, protect yourself, and immediately call 911 and wait for the police to clear your home. I don’t give a damn if you’re a police officer off duty, call 911! If you can actually hear that someone inside is actively in danger then call 911 anyway and if you’re capable, trained, and you choose to put yourself in danger then clear the rooms one by one while you’re on the phone with the police. Remember you know your home better than an intruder does, use that to your advantage. If you don’t know how to safely clear the rooms then stay out and wait for the police which is always the best answer unless someone is in immediate danger and you know what to do.

          Amber Guyger was wrong the moment she noticed the door was unlocked and she chose to step inside.
          I think Guyger should have been convicted of 2nd degree murder, her actions that resulted in the death of Jean were not premeditated.

          • Sadly, your exposition on this matter has caused me to reconsider my original assessment as too lenient. The horror is that If you are right to a certain degree in this case, you might also have some degrees of rightness in others. This cannot be true! I won’t let it to be true!

            I am living through difficult moments . . .

      • Apparently, she’d been having some kind of problem with her door or something.

        Two or three years ago, I parked my car, walked into a restaurant, came back outside, stuck my key in the car door, opened it up, got inside and sat in the driver’s seat.

        It looked weird.

        I realized it wasn’t my car.

        My car was the car next to it. It was the same make, model and color as the one I was inside. I immediately got out of this strange car and quickly got into my own.

        Either the stranger’s car door was unlocked or my key was able to unlock his door.

        Thank God he (or she, for that matter) didn’t show up. And have a gun.

      • ” why did the unlocked door not clue this off-duty Texas police officer in to the fact that this was not her door?”

        My assumption is that if the door being unlocked occurred to her, it may have put her on guard for an intruder causing her to jump to the conclusion that Botham Jean was an intruder that much faster.

        Such a tragedy.

  5. I believe that the original information was that the door was ajar, not merely unlocked. And early information said that the apartments were equipped with some sort of self-closing mechanism to prevent this. Apparently it did not always perform as advertised: one witness at trial was a Texas Ranger who investigated the case and he testified that the door appeared to malfunction and that after several tests he found it to malfunction, depending upon how far open the door was when released to close. He also contacted many residents of the apartment complex and found that many had, on occasion, found themselves on the wrong floor or in a wrong corridor, indicating that the geography of the place could be confusing.

    Approaching your residence and seeing the door ajar when you know you closed and locked it when leaving should alert you to potential trouble. You would call the cops, but if you are the cops and know what kind of response to expect, you might want to do a little “checking it out” first. A call of this nature would not trigger a SWAT call out.

    That aside, maybe there is testimony about how long she was actually on duty, and what those duties were, so that the idea of “fatigue” might be better analyzed. Police work is not digging post holes or putting on roofs.

    • Because valkygrrl posted a link to the live trial I got trapped by it and watched it for hours. I thought the prosecution’s closing statements to the jury were not very well handled. I thought the defense lawyer did, under the circumstances, a pretty masterful job.

      I have a few questions. Given that she got, relatively speaking, a fairly mild sentence (and yet an adequate one, given the circumstances and the atmosphere in the country), is she wise to appeal it? Or, should she figure that, most likely, she will be eligible for parole and will likely get it and thus opt to accept the sentence?

      She would be advised to use the time in prison to study something and get a degree that will be useful to her when she gets out.

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